The Blackhawks did not make very good use of their Mulligan on Wednesday night. In golf, a sport they could be playing now for real, a Mulligan is intended to provide a reprieve, a second chance, and the idea is not to waste it with a shank, whiff or a similarly unproductive spasm.
Thus, the bad news: the defending Stanley Cup champions were halted, 2-0, by the Vancouver Canucks in their best-of-seven playoff opener. And the worse news: the Blackhawks could not return to their hotel and wait for the Minnesota Wild to defeat the Dallas Stars again. This one counted.
Mind you, the Blackhawks have a habit of losing the first game of postseason tiffs versus the Canucks, only to eliminate them, which is why everybody in this world-class metropolis seemed seriously apprehensive before the puck was dropped. Everybody, that is, except the Canucks themselves, who exorcised their inner Chicago demons—at least for 60 minutes—by bumping the visitors all over Rogers Arena.
Officially, the Canucks were credited with 47 hits to 21 for the Blackhawks, but it didn’t feel as close as that tally indicated.
“Unacceptable,” huffed Chicago Capt. Jonathan Toews
. “We played that like a regular-season game, but it’s not a regular-season game. It’s a playoff game, and some of us didn’t pay the price. We were hearing footsteps. We have to respond better.”
The Blackhawks did clank three posts beside Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who was also compelled to author a couple of exceptional saves on Brian Campbell and Patrick Sharp
. So it’s not as though the Canucks rolled over their guests after scoring twice in the opening 10:23 on Chris Higgins’ re-direct and Jannik Hansen’s breakaway. It’s just that the Canucks seemed to take indecent liberties with the physical stuff, including a crack even on Corey Crawford
, Luongo’s counterpart.
Crawford survived the aggression, but Tomas Kopecky didn’t. After being ridden into the boards, and almost saddled up by Keith Ballard, the Blackhawk forward departed with an upper body injury early. Troy Brouwer returned, Dave Bolland
practiced earlier in the day but did not play, and now Kopecky is idle until further notice.
“We seem to lose a key guy every game,” noted Toews, whose critique about the Blackhawks’ posture was not contested by coach Joel Quenneville. He stated, accurately, the squad started slowly (again) and could have reciprocated the body work a bit more often.
With the Canucks up 2-0, Campbell appeared to have his stick halfway in the air, all the better to halving the deficit. But Luongo extended his right skate just in time. Maybe there is something to this business about Luongo benefitting by playing deeper in his net this season. However, we are not deep in this tournament yet, which is why Vancouver and surrounding suburbs will be fretting again before Game 2 Friday night. The hated Blackhawks have done this before.
Still, Toews must be heard. It’s the playoffs. Gentlemen, start your beards. Please.